Since when have we become professional poets, and why?

I read Poets & Writers and Writers’ Digest–and I’ve written for such mags, judged their contests, etc. Yet this morning over a bagel at Java Joe’s I was suddenly drawn up short. Since when did poets become professionals? In my lifetime as a writer, I guess.
When I was a kid there were famous poets, dead poets, suicidal poets, opium smoking poets…but they were hardly professionals. From Chinese hermits to Russians in a Gulag, their concerns didn’t seem to be a prize winning book or an academic job.
At college, there was Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell–prone to breakdowns, personal disarray, and mostly just to writing…their teaching seemed an afterthought, without much academic credential, later in life.
All that has changed. It troubles me, even though I’m probably part of the problem. One isn’t a professional mother or dreamer…being a professional sweetie is a bad thing and one might be a career criminal but that seems overpackaged.
Since when have we become professional poets, and why?

1 thought on “Since when have we become professional poets, and why?

  1. Ha, Ha. My husband often comments about the great golfers, the truly great golfers who played for nothing or for much less than the 6 and 7 figures some muster today. Perhaps being a poet today holds the promise of being the rock star of words, insight, understanding, wisdom. And some get paid…but only the rock stars, I imagine.
    My mother thinks it was funny and overdone that young mothers would take LaMaze classes for something that has gone on forever. It was like getting a diploma in birthing, preparing us for the degree of motherhood. I for one was glad to find out more about what I had gotten into. She on the other hand thought, since when do you need a class on that and furthermore be LM certified?
    Perhaps poets have evolved to that thing they call branding nowadays. An identity for which one wants to be noticed and certified.

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